There’s pressure — lots of pressure. And not the typical I-want-a-bike or a doll-that-poops kind of pressure your kids may have foisted upon you just a few Christmases ago. No, this is the big leagues. Your child wants his or her first smartphone to show up under the tree this year. Is your son or daughter ready? Bigger question: Are you ready?
A first smartphone is a big step in a family that can’t be unstepped. Because it’s not about what a phone used to be about, which is dialing the number of a person you need to speak with. Today, giving your child a cell phone unlocks a hidden wardrobe door that leads to a whole new Narnia-like world abounding in both hills of goodness and valleys of emotional punches.
A first cell phone isn’t a casual purchase. Besides the financial investment (these things aren’t cheap), there’s a family dynamic that will likely change and a peer-to-peer dynamic that will go through its tumultuous metamorphosis.
Here are a few things to consider and talk through with your family before making your final decision to purchase that first smartphone.
Family talking points
- Maturity milestones. A phone is a small computer your child will carry in his or her pocket from this point forward. Has your child demonstrated maturity in other areas? Can he or she stay home alone responsibly for short periods? Does your child take care of his or her possessions, complete chores, and homework on time and without you nagging? Does your child earn/save/spend his or her allowance in a mature way? Does your child show empathy for others or deal with conflict well? These milestones are worth examining. If you feel uneasy about your child’s overall maturity, you might consider setting some goals to move your child toward cell phone ownership sometime in the future.
- The cyberbully factor. We know you’d never willingly invite a cyberbully into your home and especially wouldn’t put one under the tree for your child to discover on Christmas morning. However, that’s the reality of what phone ownership will bring sooner or later. Is your child emotionally strong enough to handle mean comments, feeling excluded, or being criticized or joked with in public? How does your child handle peer conflict without a phone? The emotional impact of owning a phone is not something you will see advertised, but it’s a huge factor to consider.
- Peer pressure. Digital peer pressure is a real thing. There’s pressure to dress a certain way, post pictures a certain way, and post activities online to gain status points in certain social circles. The selfie craze, online dares, digital trends and hashtags, and other pressures are all part of the smartphone equation.
- Harmful content. There’s a lot of great content online — educational, entertaining, and fun — but there’s a lot of content that is harmful to kids such as pornography, hateful ideology, and cruelty. Can your child resist the temptation to seek out or look at concerning content? Can your child discern ideas? Are you as a parent willing to take the extra steps to filter inappropriate content?
- Privacy issues. With a new phone comes great responsibility toward guarding one’s personal information. Do you have the time to communicate, teach, and monitor your child’s online footprint? Getting kids off to a strong start will require much time and care up front until your son or daughter has a grasp on the value of personal data.
- Social media. Social media owns vast real estate on a child’s phone and includes everything from gaming, to social networks, to various “communities” attached to apps. Anywhere your child can create a username and profile and connect with others, opens him or her up to risks of cyberbullying, strangers, and scams. Discuss new apps and establish ground rules and phone usage boundaries that make sense for your family. The most important part of setting rules is to enforce the rules.
- Screentime ground rules. With a first smartphone comes the risk of too much screen time. Addiction to online gaming, social media, and phones, in general, have become a public health concern. Put family rules in place that set time limits and phone free zones. Keep communication open and consistent to keep your kids following healthy screen time habits.